Helmet Cams Pose Possible Hidden Danger
If you’re like me, you enjoy all those videos of guys on their bikes, weaving down mountain roads, through sunlit trees seeing the same view that the rider is getting from his or her helmet-mounted camera. In an earlier post, we discussed how you make sure you get a helmet that fits your style and pocket. Now, everyone and their dog is fitting helmet cams (the Veebase Sniffer has her own, collar-mounted). They’re great fun and you can re-ride a particularly good run over and over (however, you wouldn’t want to see most of the Veebase Sniffer’s videos – they’re gross).
But, on the other side of the world, well Australia anyway, riders are being fined and getting points on their licenses if caught with a helmet cam. Why? Because of the helmet safety standards across the various Australian states. So, do helmet cams pose possible hidden danger?
The Australians have standards similar to our DOT and SNELL over here and the UK’s SHARP. But their laws aren’t as clear cut as they might appear and some state troopers are fining riders $300 AUS and putting points on their licenses. Could it start to happen here?
Well, maybe. When you buy a lid, it’s normally smooth as a baby’s on the outside for good reasons. One, it looks nicer that way, two, it cuts wind resistance (if you have a beard and wear a modular lid, forget that) and three, it skids more easily if you fall off – you don’t want a knobbly helmet that twists all over the place when it hits the black stuff. And therein lies the cause for concern. Helmet saftey standards are all about the integrity of the product, so, its ability to withstand forces, structural shears and plain, hard impact. So, the thinking goes that you put a camera on it and you potentially change its safety parameters.
What goes forwards at speed sometimes comes off
Now, last time I came off – yes, friends, even me – it hurt a bit (I always remember my late father asking a famous Everest climber if it hurt when he fell off a mountain and his reply “Not when you fall off but it hurts when you hit the bottom”). But I was wearing a full-face lid and we skidded across the pavement with no injury to my head. The lid was another matter AND remember if it happens to you and your helmet suffers damage, don’t risk it, get a new one. Most of us don’t land on the tops of our heads so a helmet cam right on top probably has no impact on your safety. But what if it’s mounted on the side? If you follow the manufacturer’s advice and use a breakaway mount, probably okay. But if you fix it to the helmet, you’re building up a risk of the contraption twisting your neck if you hit the ground. Okay, I’m being a bit subtle here and not suggesting you could break your neck at all. Take a look at these images from Icon showing the percentage impact areas on their Airframe Statistic helmet.
You can clearly see that the upper part of the helmet has the lowest impact rate. Typically, it’s 0.4%. But as you go down the helmet, the impact percentage rises and note that the highest percentages are just where you might mount a bluetooth device or camera, namely front and side. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words.
And here’s what they say in a report in Australia. From ‘The Mechanisms of head and neck injuries sustained by helmeted motorcyclists in NSW, Australia’:
“The attachment of Bluetooth and video camera devices to the outside of the helmet shell is a relatively new issue. This tends to go against what is prescribed in motorcycle performance standards, such as in AS 1698 which requires a smooth outer helmet shell to minimise friction or snagging that may promote helmet rotation. This study found a higher proportion of cases sustaining diffuse type intracranial injury when these devices were attached than when they were absent, although the difference was not significant.”
“..not significant” is what we can all take away from that, obviously. But note the preceding bit about a higher proportion of intracranial injury. When I studied brain surgery last week, that meant something piercing the skull. So what does Ed Becker, chief engineer and executive director of the Snell Memorial Foundation say:
“We generally advise against post-market modifications to helmets in case they might interfere with protective capability. Helmet mounted cameras are particularly worrisome. They may become loading points for tangential forces and torques in crash head strikes and afterwards as the wearer slides across a roadway… the threat to the structural integrity of the helmet [may be] minimal…The concern is whether the shock and loading will degrade the helmet’s protective capability and allow dangerous levels of shock and loading to be transmitted to the wearer’s head and neck.”
And, in conclusion
Well, that’s one of ours so a heads-up for everyone, no pun intended. I guess the message is ‘think safety’ like we have to on motorcycles. If you’re gonna use a cam, ensure it’s fitted correctly and if you’re side-mounting it, make sure it can break off on impact. Be safe and enjoy your rides.